Included among the various aspects of Torah study, is an obligation
to study regularly, and a responsibility to arrive at knowledge of the
Torah's concepts. To what degree are we expected to try to understand the
Rava said, "When man is brought to the [heavenly] judgment, they
ask him: 'Did you attend to your business matters faithfully and honestly?
Did you fix set times for Torah study?... Did you debate matters of wisdom?...'
(Talmud, Shabbos, 31a)
Regarding 'Did you debate matters of wisdom?' The Sheiv Shemaitsa (introduction,
paragraph five), quoted the Chovos Halevavos. "He should make an account
with his soul -- how he has put off understanding the book of Hashem's
Torah, without arriving at a proper comprehension of its contents. If a
letter from the government arrived, would he not apply himself to discern
every little nuance, paining himself greatly until he understood its intention?
How much more so regarding the book of Hashem's Torah! My brother, how
have you permitted yourself to neglect it, to be satisfied with a simplistic
The Sheiv Shemaitsa concludes: From here, take note what an obligation
it is to be able to answer, "Did you debate matters of wisdom?"
without being satisfied with a simplistic, casual understanding.
The book Binyam Olam is one of the classical exhortations regarding
Torah study. In the seventh chapter, sources are cited regarding this issue.
The Rabbis' statement -- " 'It is the same if one accomplishes much
or little, as long as the intention is for the sake of heaven,' was also
said in regard to Torah studies. However, it is possible that this only
applied in the days when the Rabbinical works were entirely committed to
memory (and were not written down). The main learning in those days was
in order to see that the laws were not forgotten. Today, however, since
the texts have long been recorded, our main obligation is to understand
in an orderly fashion the laws of the holy Torah and the debates of the
Rabbis." The implication is that we should seek a thorough understanding
of the entire Torah.
Binyam Olam quotes from a large range of texts, showing that Torah study
at such levels is not meant for Rabbis alone. Each person should come to
know the concepts of the Torah.
It appears that besides the responsibility to set fixed times for Torah
studies, there is a second charge -- we need to understand the Torah properly,
regardless of the extra time that must be arranged for it.
Rav Yisrael Salanter made a distinction between the two aspects of study.
As far as the mitzva of study is concerned, as soon as one begins a session
of learning, one is fulfilling the intended commandment. However, the mitzva
of knowing the Torah's concepts cannot be fulfilled in a few minutes, an
hour, a year or years. It is a constant effort -- with the rewards to appear
cumulatively, after long periods of time.
There is Sleeping... and There is Sleeping
Rav Pinchus Horowitz was the famous Rabbi of Frankfurt two hundred years
ago. He wrote how one should, ideally, reduce sleep at night, and increase
Torah study. Secondly, though -- and most importantly -- when studying
Torah during the day, one should try to remain awake, and not be asleep
at one's studies! This is the important point. Torah learning is not mere
reading; it requires alacrity, intelligence, stamina.
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Kollel of Kiryas Radin
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156